A senior investigator from the FICAC office says that the period after Fiji’s budget is passed is the riskiest for corruption.
Sharing experiences during the recent regional Anti-Corruption conference held in Sigatoka, Chief Investigator of FICAC, Alifereti Wakanivesi, pointed out that this is the time when opportunists seek to capitalise on funds allocated to government departments. He cited the cases of former deputy Official Receiver Viliame Katia, famously referred to as the hand-to-mouth case, and the incidents involving the PWD (Public Works Department).
“They would have already seen the chuck of money given to every department. They are ready to pay their bribe to get a chunk of that money,” said Wakanivesi as he sheds light on the tactics used by “skilled players” with well-organised networks that trace back to their days in secondary school.
In the PWD case, workers worked in collusion, and successfully evaded internal controls within their department, diverting funds totaling more than $300,000 intended for public welfare towards their own families and personal gains. In Katia’s case, he orchestrated 1,415 fraudulent transactions, over seven and a half years within the Official Receiver’s Office, resulting in the theft of over $4 million. He was served with the longest sentence to be handed down to a subject of a corruption investigation – 23 years behind bars.
“These financial crimes are carried out by skilled players, they know the financial system, they know regulations and laws, and know how to make laws to siphon out funds from trust funds, not only trust funds, these are operational funds too that were supposed to be used by government departments for the benefit of serving our development initiatives,” said Wakanivesi. “They have good knowledge of laws and networks to conspire together to conduct these criminal activities. Of the networks they have, they know each other from secondary schools, and they use the same network to conduct these crimes, they are digitally advanced, and they know how to use gadgets. They know when there is a development in the way we transmit funds – MPAISA, Digicel users, they are able to use these sorts of payments and gadgets and the way that transmit funds in order to be concealed. And these suspects are also wealthy, they can pay their way through when conducting these financial crimes.”
These individuals also set up fake companies with no genuine market presence, and rely on their existing connections within government departments to secure contracts to siphon funds.
“They always say, “Can you set it up for me” a lingo used between company owners and public officials who are serving in various departments, to request public officials to set it up for them whether in bribes or whatever way just for them to be able to siphon out some of the funds that have already been given to various departments in terms of budgets.”
He urged the public to act as watchdogs, saying that if they do not report cases of corruption, the consequences of the losses will be felt for an extended period.
Wakanivesi also stressed the importance of vigilance, strengthening internal controls, and holding those involved accountable to safeguard public resources and ensure funds are used for their intended purpose, benefiting society.